Wednesday, April 27, 2011


What makes a story memorable? The plot? The characters? The action? The lines? The gist? Or maybe the author.

I’m pretty sure it’s not the plot. Who remembers exactly what happened and when in any story, even your own life’s tale? In fact, some argue only seven literary plots exist, so it’s got to be other variables that make a book memorable.

It could be the characters. Many people seem to have fallen in love with Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s series. And Scarlett O’Hara holds a spot in many readers' hearts as does Rhett Butler. All three are extraordinary…and maybe that’s the ticket…being extraordinary.

But then action does seem to make a difference. Lisbeth Salander kicks some butt, and wouldn’t we all like to do that on occasion? Scarlett was a master of manipulation, and Rhett recognized—and loved—her for what she was. And isn’t being good at something and being loved, even in spite of ourselves, what we all dream of?

Or do the lines make a story memorable? “Tomorrow is another day.” “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” As for Lisbeth quotes, well, some of those words aren’t in my vocabulary, which made them all the more attention-getting.

Now the gist of the story, the central idea, the essence, could be what ultimately makes a book memorable. I remember reading Still Alice and being horrified I was developing Alzheimer’s, and all the other members of my book club thought they were, too. So does reading about someone suffering through an event that could happen to us make a story memorable? If so, I probably ought to remember more stories, since I read plenty of women’s and almost zero science fiction.

I currently have one hundred and six books in my catalog on Goodreads. Looking at their covers, I remember the gist of one quarter. The others, regardless of whether I rated them a five or not, have completely left my memory. Is that because I really am developing Alzheimer’s or because the stories, while entertaining and well written, were not, in the end, all that memorable?

Of the one quarter I recall, half were written by an author I’ve met, which made them more interesting to me. I didn’t necessarily rate them any higher, but I remember them better because of that additional significance.

So what is it that makes a book memorable? Does each of us have a different answer, depending on our own life experiences? Or does a universal thread exist, woven through all of the memorable tales, embedding them in our minds? If so, I can’t put my finger on it; can you? Is it even important for a book to be memorable? What do you think?


Anonymous said...

For me personally, I would say the characters. When writing my latest novel, I hoped to achieve strong characters. I do think the gist of the story is incredibly important, but if your characters are weak, it is unlikely a reader will remember much about the plot.

CJ xx

Book Dilettante said...

Memorable to me means meaningful characters and story.

Book Dilettante

Darrell James said...

Whether a story is memorable or not is probably different for each of us. I suspect it's the "exprience we had reading a given book" that's what we actually remember. As opposed to the book itself or any particular element.

But then... it's always the character that comes to mind when I think about it. (

Elmore Leonard's Chili Palmer, Stephen King's "Wolf, right here and now."

irishoma said...

For me, it's character and voice.
Donna V.

Lisa Bork said...

Sounds like characters are winning so far. I should have thought to include voice; that's a big draw for me to an author/book, too.

Alan Orloff said...

Characters, almost always.

G.M. Malliet said...

I think character is key-- think Rebecca.

Alice Loweecey said...

Characters 99%. Atmosphere 1% (HP Lovecraft). You knew I was going to say that. :)